No American city has ever passed a plan remotely like Komanoff’s, so don’t hold your breath for such radical measures anytime soon. But in the meantime, mobile technology offers a more immediate solution to your commuting problems. Many drivers already rely on GPS navigators, either pre-installed in the vehicle or via apps for iPhones and Android, to provide up-to-the-minute traffic reports.
But one overlooked tool is the greatest crowdsourcing resource of them all: Twitter. Even regular Tweeters rarely take advantage of the site’s advanced search function, which can allow commuters to tap into the collective brains of drivers stuck in traffic. If you’re one of those unlucky “#completegridlock” souls, you can make the best of your misfortune by conducting morning meetings using a hands-free mobile device such as the well-reviewed Jabra Freeway. Drive-time teleconferences might not be ideal for particular projects, but for meetings that only require your “presence” they can be perfect.
If you’ve switched over to two-wheeled transportation, you’re in luck. There are no shortage of mobile apps specifically geared for bikers. MapMyRIDE is one of the best known due its and excellent live-mapping feature and impressive database of 26 million-routes—all exportable to GPS devices and Google Earth. MapMyRIDE also tracks speed, distance, and calories, and lets users announce rides on Facebook and Twitter.
Numerous weather apps—including Aelios and Magical Weather—provide a self-explanatory and invaluable service. Complement your existing app with Dark Sky, an exclusively short-term but extremely accurate weather predictor that provides a precipitation report for your exact location for the next half hour using doppler radar images of passing clouds. Dark Sky takes the guesswork out of finding a fifteen minute window between showers so you can dart home undrenched.
Finally, there’s public transportation, which is far more compatible with the mobile tech lifestyle than driving, as any highway patrol officer will be all too happy to remind you. Not only does traveling by subway, bus, and train allow you to check email and read the news, it’s often the fastest route to work during rush hour. But unexpected incidents do occur from time-to-time to throw buses and trains off schedule. The Clever Commute, a crowdsourced network of real-time transit alerts, allows commuters to share updated information (via email and mobile message) when buses are late or trains are stuck.
Transit agencies themselves often offer real-time schedule information and updates on delays via smartphone apps. Pro-active cities like Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco provide open-source data to developers, who in turn create apps that serve to attract riders. Data provided by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority has been used to create more than 50 apps.
Mobile technology will likely make transportation alternatives increasingly preferable to rush hour traffic, and the past decade has already been witness to a dramatic reduction in total vehicle miles traveled. New policy solutions, like those of Charles Komanoff, will help cities produce a dynamic transportation infrastructure reflective of these changing commuter values.
Freedom of the open road is still symbolically important to Americans, but on a practical level it seems we have prioritized the freedom to multitask and freedom to better allocate our time. And that’s not such a bad thing.